In Ashtanga yoga there are two traditional chants. One at the start of the class and one at the end. In my classes I only do this chant in my non-beginners classes. I do this because I think chanting can be a bit intimidating to some people. This can be especially when they are just beginning their yoga journey. People come to yoga for all sorts of reasons and I think that is fine, yoga has many benefits.
When I do teach the chant, it is is optional. I know many of my students love it and some people just listen for whatever reason and that’s fine. I would hate someone to miss out on the many benefits of yoga because they don’t feel comfortable chanting.
Why do the chant?
I think the chant is really useful as a way to seperate your yoga practice from day to day life. If you don’t want to to chant you could take a moment to connect with your breathing.
What language is the chant and what does it mean?
The chant is in Sanskrit – an ancient language of India. The opening chant gives thanks to Patanjali, who wrote the yoga Sutras. This ancient text can be considered the philosophical underpinnings of yoga. If you are interested in deepening your understanding of yoga, you should definately read the yoga sutras. It was written approximately 200 years BC and has amazing relevance to our lives today. In my mind when we say this chant we are also giving thanks to all the yoga teachers who have passed on the yoga tradition so that we can practice today. The closing chant is more about taking the benefits of our yoga practice and putting them out into the world. You can find a full translation of the chants here.
Religion and the Chant
Some people may not want to chant because they feel it is religious. Yoga is not a religion. It has a philosophy and can be practiced by anyone, regardless of whether they have a religious faith or not.
Pronunciation of the chant
This post came about because some of my students said they struggled to pronounce the chant when they are practing by themselves. Last week I came across this wonderful video on yoga mammas blog. The video shows Sharath and his grandfather Pattabhi Jois, saying the opening chant. Pattabhi Jois was the founder of ashtanga yoga, he is no longer with us and the current head of the lineage is his grandson Sharath. I feel very grateful for having had the opportunity to study with both of them. This video shows a beautiful transmission of the tradition.
Here is another video of Sharath chanting the closing chant.
Do you like chanting? What do you like or dislike about it? Do you have any questions about the chants?